It’s still about half an hour too long – 80 minutes on a cheap set with no ad breaks or bad contestants feels more like a punishment than a treat. But The Voice is growing into its dorky clothes.
Jessie J is quietly competent and confident, safe in the knowledge that half the contestants will pick her automatically, and she’s developing a good double act with will.i.am, whose mischievous comedy goblin persona is The Voice’s best surprise. This week, at one point he suddenly announced: “There’s an opportunity to reinvent radio!” More cryptic master plans, please.
Danny O’Donoghue sits on the end making a slight pudding of himself, but in an endearing Louis Walsh sort of way. His signature move: buzzing early, then screwing up his face and doing that faux-street “wet nail polish” hand gesture, pretty much regardless of what’s on the stage.
When hat-wearing white soul man David Faulkner came on to sing Superstition – yes, The Voice has found its Olly Murs, so that’s an important milestone - Danny did the face-screw during the intro. The contestant hadn’t started. Totally vibing off those session musicians. Ohhh yeah. Uh.
Meanwhile, Tom Jones might be a bit… how can I put this? He thought a man singing slightly high was a woman, and someone who sometimes did a falsetto was “two people up there”. Occasionally he seemed not to be fully concentrating. He was the only judge to turn around for Barbara Bryceland, a classic middle-aged club belter who surely can’t win, and most of the time he didn’t seem to know what to say to the contestants. Perhaps it’s the editing. Perhaps he’ll do his Elvis story again.
The wait for the first judge to turn round worked a little better this week. Now we’ve got used to the actual singing being a distant background noise while the panel hover over their buttons and say things like “Are you going?” to each other, the format has some advantages. When Frances Wood sang Where Is the Love by Black Eyed Peas and got nothing until the last second - will.i.am, the man she obviously wanted, suddenly turned round - there was finally a bit of drama.
On the other hand, listening to West End veteran Kerry Ellis put more and more gravelly “soul” affectation into her voice as she got nearer to rejection was painful. Slowly realising you’re probably out while you sing actually seems crueller than anything in The X Factor.
One brave and clever thing The Voice did this week was to play on its own weaknesses. “People can’t tell I’m a 17-year-old from the way I sing,” said Shansel Huseyin backstage. "My mum says I sound like a 30-year-old.” As usual The Voice was heavily spelling out how we should be reacting – but then Shansel didn’t get through.
“I didn’t turn around because I thought you were going to be a lot older,” she was told. Later on, Holly Cosgrove, a highly stylised 16-year-old who also sounded much older than she was, got no buzzes either. There was a whole montage of people who supposedly would have got through if they’d been seen as well as heard.
Most of them were highlighting another of The Voice’s problems by not really being that good anyway, whatever they looked like – Shansel sounded 17 in that she was terribly breathy and wobbly, even if Danny did give her his best eyes-closed “artistic appreciation” face.
But openly admitting that the blind-audition format often backfires definitely livened up the show. All we need now is for one contestant, instead of saying The Voice is their only chance, to come on and say, “Yeah, to be honest I’d probably get to boot camp on The X Factor at least. Whatever.”
The Voice’s biggest improvement overall this week, though, was in the contestants. Heshima Thompson opened the show with his terrific soul voice, and there was someone who stopped me wishing I could fast-forward and made me rewind and watch him again. Vince Kidd’s slow soul-jam version of Madonna’s Like a Virgin had – highest possible compliment alert - a touch of Prince about it, as did his pixie stature, platinum hair and chaotically layered outfit.
Plus Vince (pictured above) was the only contestant so far where the cutaways to the friends and family room, urging the judges to press their buzzers, added something rather than just interrupting. Brilliantly, Vince Snr was a Sarf Lahndan geezer in an XXL leisure shirt. “Cam on Tom! TURN RAAAHND!”